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Tracking surprising moments from East to West

by Mike G. Morreale

The Detroit Red WIngs' sweep of the Colorado Avalanche left little doubt where the balance of power in the NHL is. Wings sweep Avs
So, it comes down to four teams -- Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in the East and Dallas and Detroit in the West -- each needing eight more victories for the right to hoist the Stanley Cup.

As was the case after the opening round, there were several surprises sprinkled throughout the recently completed Eastern and Western Conference semifinal rounds. One such stunner was Detroit’s four-game dismissal of the Colorado Avalanche, which left little doubt in “Hockeytown” where the balance of power resides in the NHL. 

The fact no conference semifinal lasted seven games also was a tad surprising. In fact, not since 2003, when the sixth-seeded Minnesota Wild defeated the fourth-seeded Vancouver Canucks, has a conference semifinal gone the distance. In addition to the Red Wings’ elimination of the Avalanche, the fifth-seeded Dallas Stars continued their impressive surge by defeating the second-seeded San Jose Sharks in six games. In the East, the sixth-seeded Philadelphia Flyers knocked off the top-seeded Montreal Canadiens in five and the second-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins shut down the fifth-seeded New York Rangers, also in five.

Here is a quick review of the Top Five surprises that dominated both the Eastern and Western Conference semifinal rounds.

Eastern Conference

New ‘Burger’ of Pennsylvania -- Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Philadelphia Flyers wing R.J. Umberger are two different athletes with a common thread. Umberger is a native of Pittsburgh, where Roethlisberger is the starting quarterback for the Steelers. Roethlisberger, who has multiple sandwiches named after him, including the popular “Roethlisburger,” became the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl in 2006.

Perhaps it’s time Philadelphia named a sandwich after Umberger, who had eight goals and was a plus-6 in the Flyers’ five-game elimination of the top-seeded Montreal Canadiens. Umberger’s offensive exploits enabled the Flyers to reach the conference finals for the first time in three seasons.

One heck of a Hossa -- This is the reason the Pittsburgh Penguins sent four prospects to the Atlanta Thrashers for the rights to 29-year-old Marian Hossa at the trade deadline on Feb. 26. Despite only collecting three goals in eight previous playoff games entering Game 5 against the Rangers, Hossa delivered his second goal of the game 7:10 into overtime to send the Penguins to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2001. Hossa controlled a loose puck and beat Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist from the slot in the extra session for his 18th career playoff goal.

Believe in Biron
-- There’s no question Philadelphia Flyers goalie Martin Biron, who is making his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut, was MVP of the second round against the Montreal Canadiens. He stopped 30-or-more shots in every game and finished 4-1 with a 2.80 goals-against average and .921 save percentage. Biron is 8-4 with a 2.72 GAA and .914 save percentage after two playoff rounds.

“Biron was on top of his game,” Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said. “I’ve played with one guy (Patrick Roy) that made those kind of saves that were silly sometimes.’’

Kudos for Koivu -- Montreal Canadiens captain Saku Koivu, who missed the first five playoff games while recovering from a broken foot, certainly made up for lost time when he returned to the ice in Game 6 against the Boston Bruins in the opening round. In the end, the 33-year-old center had three goals and six assists in seven playoff games, including three goals and three assists in his team’s conference semifinal-round setback to the Flyers. Koivu also led all Montreal forwards with a 56.8 faceoff winning percentage.

Jagr young at heart -- Rangers wing Jaromir Jagr proved he still possesses some swagger and star power in the postseason. The 36-year-old Jagr had three goals and four assists in five playoff games against the Penguins. Jagr led the Rangers in playoff scoring with 15 points (10 assists), his highest postseason contribution in three seasons with New York, and was a big part of his team’s Game 4 victory against Pittsburgh when he scored twice to help his team stave off elimination with a 3-0 victory.

Western Conference

This ‘Mule’ has a kick -- Johan Franzen, nicknamed “Mule” by his teammates, became the fifth player in NHL history to score at least three goals on two occasions during a playoff series. He notched a hat trick in a 5-1 victory against Colorado in Game 2 and another in an 8-2 triumph in Game 4 to close out the conference semifinal-round series. He has 26 goals since the beginning of March, more than anyone in the League. His nine goals against Colorado are a Red Wings’ record for a playoff series, breaking Gordie Howe’s eight goals in seven games in 1949.

Stars defenseman Mattias Norstrom scored the OT winner against the Sharks in Game 3 of the semifinals. Norstrom's OT winner
Norstrom delivers in OT -- Prior to this playoff season, Dallas Stars defenseman Mattias Norstrom had just two assists in 38 career playoff games. The 36-year-old Swede has already doubled that goal total this spring, collecting two goals and three assists in 12 games. In the Stars’ six-game series victory against the Sharks, Norstrom assisted on captain Brenden Morrow’s overtime game-winner in Game 1 and scored the overtime winner in Game 3. The goal surprised even Norstrom.

“Never have I been a part of one play that made so much impact,’’ he said. “No kidding. Not when you’ve scored or assisted on as few goals as I have.’’

Ozzie remains perfect -- Since taking over for Dominik Hasek in Game 4 of their opening-round series against the Nashville Predators, Chris Osgood has a 6-0 record with a playoff-best 1.52 goals-against average and .937 save percentage. In the Wings’ four-game sweep of the Colorado Avalanche in the conference semifinal round, Osgood sported a 2.25 GAA and .914 save percentage. He remains the stopper for the Wings for the foreseeable future.

It’s Turco time -- After receiving some blame for recent first-round exits by the Dallas Stars, Marty Turco has completely exonerated himself, beginning with his stellar performance in a seven-game series setback to the Vancouver Canucks last spring. In that first-round series, Turco registered three shutouts and posted a 1.30 goals-against average and .952 save percentage, both of which led the League. This year, after outplaying former Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jean-Sebastien Giguere of Anaheim in the first round, Turco did it again to Vezina Trophy nominee Evgeni Nabokov of the San Jose Sharks in the second round. Prior to Sunday’s 2-1 quadruple-overtime victory against the Sharks, Turco had never led the Stars past the second round of the playoffs since taking over as their No. 1 goaltender in 2002-03. He made a club-record 61 saves in Game 6 against the Sharks and now sports a 1.73 GAA and .929 save percentage in 12 playoff games.

A salute to Sakic -- The face of the Colorado Avalanche, who missed 38 games following hernia surgery this season, has said he’ll wait until the summer to decide if he’ll return for a 20th NHL season. Despite the injury, Sakic, who turns 39 on July 7, still led the team with 10 points and eight assists in 10 playoff games for an injury-riddled Avalanche club. His two assists in Game 4 against Detroit boosted his career playoff total to 188 points, tying him with Doug Gilmour for seventh place all-time. Sakic was the Avalanche’s fifth-leading scorer in the regular season with 40 points (13 goals, 27 assists) in 44 games.

Said Sakic: “I’m going to take my time, think about it over the summer. It’s something obviously I need to make a decision on. Discuss it with my family and see where we go. But right now, just take some time.’’

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